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Cornerstone Festival Journal/Review
By Trae Cadenhead

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This journey of 500 miles began with a decision 13 months earlier. After One Fest, in Memphis, Tennessee, my first Christian music festival, last year I decided I wanted to try something bigger and better the next year. If my metal favorite Tourniquet would be there, then so would I. The following winter Tourniquet was on schedule amongst tons of other great bands and my final decision was made. I was going to Cornerstone Festival 2002.

The following months provided preparation time: finding a ride, determining what to bring, scouring the music schedule, and doing research on as many bands as possible. Sunday night, June 30, the journey began. My brother Tyson and I took a three-hour Greyhound ride from Memphis, Tennessee to Sikeston, Missouri to meet up with Cornerstone regulars Aaron and Chris. The next morning, July 1, we took our final six-hour ride to Bushnell, Illinois. Others would be meeting us once we got there. The excitement began to build in me as I realized that in less than 24 hours I would be absorbing a loaded lineup of Tooth and Nail bands. This was going to be good.

Monday, July 1, 2002
This year was the first year for a stage to be set up and running on Monday, two days before the fest officially began. After waiting through an incredibly slow registration line and getting a camping spot set up, I was off to check out the new Steelroots Livewire stage. Though the lineup didn’t boast any bands I really wanted to see, I was just excited to hear some music and the Steelroots stage, primarily set up to shoot footage for a cable television network, provided that opportunity. Even at such an early date, the portable outdoor stage was crowded with a few-thousand over-eager music listeners like myself. I heard the hardcore/punk/oi of The Deal, the modern rock of Strange Occurrence, the Linkin Park-ish hardcore/rock of Root 33, the white boy hip hop of KJ-52, and the rap/rock of Pillar. These bands were unimpressive for the most part, although Strange Occurrence may have some potential. 

Wrestling with important questions
I got to bed a bit early on Monday night after a not-so great experience with the showers. The question occurred to me more than once: given the absurdly disgusting smell of the water would I be cleaner not taking a shower? The rest of the week showed my answer to be yes and no. I showered every other day, as unpleasant as it was. After getting to sleep at about midnight, morning came much sooner than expected.

Tuesday, July 2, 2002 - Day Zero  Tooth and Nail Day
I woke up the next morning by 7:30 a.m. extremely sweaty with the sun beating down on my tent. I had heard much about the fabled Cornerstone heat, but it was not enough to prepare me for it. I spent most of the morning relatively bored before going to check out the first band on the Encore 2 stage for Tooth and Nail day, Anberlin. A newly signed band from Florida, Anberlin’s sound is somewhat in the vein of The Juliana Theory or Jimmy Eat World, but is still very fresh and unique. They pulled off their short six-song set with plenty of energy to spare. 

Another newly signed band, Holland, took the stage next with their three-piece melodic rock. They were a band with a good deal of potential that still needed some work. The sound reminded me a bit of the now defunct My Friend Stephanie. 

The Canadian band Lucerin Blue played music that had a sound somewhere between Linkin Park and the older Embodyment music. They were another band that will need some more work before they become a real fan favorite. 

Former Takehold Records band The Operation played music that can only be described as emo. They sounded tight and played well, effectively impressing the hundreds gathered in the Encore 2 tent. 

I ventured out of Encore 2 to check out the other Tooth and Nail stage at Encore 1. As I arrived, Dead Poetic was drawing near to the end of their set. I got to see them play “Corporate Enthusiasts” and “Four Wall Blackmail”, however. The live performance was enough to make me almost want to rethink my average album review that I gave the band’s debut CD.

I had heard much about the new Tooth and Nail band Me Without You so I stuck around at the Encore 1 tent to see them play. It was definitely time well spent. It’s impossible to say what genre of music Me Without You plays, but it’s heavy, intelligent, and crazy with the catchiness of rock and roll and the angst of hardcore. The band left me quite impressed.

Since hearing the new Fine China CD, I wanted to see them live. The band’s afternoon set at Encore 2 gave me my chance. From the opener “Hug Every Friend” to the closing “We Rock Harder”, the band sounded great. Unfortunately, the vocals seemed a bit forced and unnatural. Still, Fine China put on a pretty good show.

I took a break from the music for a couple hours to check out the recently set up merchandise tent, enjoy some dinner and greet my friend Micah from school. Feeling a bit better after some rest, it was back to Encore 2 for a great evening lineup. Calibretto 13 welcomed the refreshed crowd with their original “cow punk.” It was easy to get into their music as the large crowd could attest to. One of the more interesting parts of the show occurred when a guy proposed on stage. “This isn’t the first time this has happened,” the band proudly announced. “But it’s always special.”

Element 101 took the stage next. They were definitely into the music, especially lead singer Crissie Verhagen, who certainly graced the crowd simply by her presence. The sound mix was a bit off, but the band still did a good job.

The new incarnation of Bleach followed. Having recently signed to Tooth and Nail, the band sounded a bit less polished than in the past, but in a good way. Bleach mainly played songs from their upcoming CD and gave a good preview of what’s to come.

The crowd for Ace Troubleshooter was huge and crazy. It looked like the band has gotten very popular in recent days. They played a mix of pop punk from their first album and rock from their brand new Madness of the Crowd release. Despite a weak sound mix, Ace still rocked the crowd. 

A few people left the tent during Two Thirty Eight, providing a bit of breathing room. Two Thirty Eight was on top of their game, playing favorites from Regulate the Chemicals along with a couple new songs coming out this October on You Should Be Living. The band closed with the crowd favorite “High School Song.”

Poor Old Lu celebrated their resurrection and recent signing with Tooth and Nail by playing an excellent 6-song set with a mix of memory-invoking old favorites and new songs to show that the future looks bright for this pioneer Christian alternative band.

Further Seems Forever put on an incredible show by producing a tight sound and electrifying the crowd. It’s no secret that this band is getting big. Lead singer Jason Gleason proved he was every bit as crazy as the crowd, often handing the microphone over to the audience and even stage diving during the chorus of one of the songs.

Starflyer 59 provided the conclusion to Tooth and Nail day. Though Jason Martin, singer/guitarist/visionary for the band, admittedly doesn’t like playing shows, Starflyer still produced perfect songs like only Starflyer 59 can do. The set was mellow and impressive, consisting of songs from Leave Here a Stranger and a few older tunes.

Before retiring for the night, I went down to the beach to catch part of a worship time with Michael Pritzl (of The Violet Burning) at the beach. I was surprised at how many people were there. The soothing worship provided a perfect ending to a long day of music.

July 3, 2002 - Day One
I realized on Wednesday morning that my experience waking up sweaty the previous morning was no anomaly. I woke up early again, still tired but unable to sleep. I made the best of the situation, ate some breakfast, and relaxed in the shade until noon. My first event of the day was an interesting and informative discussion on worship at the Press Tent. 

I remained in the shade of the Press Tent for press conferences with Pillar and The Violet Burning. Michael Pritzl talked about the direction he is trying to take in his songwriting to make the music more universal. He said he isn’t trying to change the band’s sound, but is trying to work with the architecture of his songs to make them appeal to a broader audience. At first the discussion scared me into thinking that Pritzl was compromising art for popularity. Pritzl was able to calm these fears through the press conference and other times throughout the week. 

The first band I saw for the day was Denison Marrs on the Indoor Stage at Encore 1. It was easy to see that the band is maturing into one of the very best in the indie scene. However, due to their signing with Floodgate Records, Denison Marrs won’t be a secret for much longer. Walls of atmosphere and energy permeated the band’s set that showcased a good mix of older songs and new material. 

Further Seems Forever was up next on the Indoor Stage. Their second show was just as packed as the night before, but this time the tent was bigger. Once again, they were amazing. Look for them to become huge in the coming days, and for good reason; Further Seems Forever loves their fans and makes quality music for them. 

Sleeping At Last is a relatively new band from Chicago. Their recent signing with Interscope Records has made the band a rather hot commodity. The sound of their set on the Indoor Stage showed why they were signed. The three-piece band played some beautiful music that is incomparable to anything out right now.

Starflyer 59 closed out the afternoon. Starflyer shows are strange. Jason Martin and band have virtually no interaction with the crowd, yet the music sounds so perfect that it’s impossible to not enjoy the show. Just as the previous night, Starflyer played both old and new songs, generally sticking to a mellow sound. The longer set was a blessing to fans like myself.

For dinner, Micah drove us into town for a hot meal at Hardees. While there we saw the band Philmore eating dinner. Micah asked why they weren’t playing Cornerstone this year and they said that they were, but on the Impromptu stage. The show was to occur the next day, but I wouldn’t have time to see it. The Hardees burger and fries provided just what was needed to get through the rest of the evening.

When we got back, it was off to the Cornerstone Magazine stage to see one of my favorites, Denison Witmer. His music was real and captivating and his personality honest and humble. Denison played a few new songs (including one that he wrote during the sound check) and took requests for many old favorites. The whole set was amazing.

Next on stage was Ester Drang, a band that cannot be described with mere words. Even without a strong stage presence or catchy lyrics, the band’s music held everything together and blew away listeners like myself. Ester Drang takes the word “atmospheric” to a whole new level in a beautiful way. 

I took my first trip to the main stage with Micah to check out Project 86. Granted, their Drawing Black Lines CD sounds great, but the Project’s live show was not near as much as I had hoped for. After witnessing the intensity of a band like Further Seems Forever, Project 86 just didn’t seem too exciting. A highlight came when Stavesacre’s Mark Solomon came out and sang on a new song. Project 86 is pretty good, but they don’t have anywhere near the live show of someone like P.O.D.

There were many good midnight shows to choose from, and I chose Michael Knott. It turned out to be a great decision. Knott had the band from Seven Head Division backing him up and together they ripped through many favorites. From the classic “Sugar Mama” to the new “Comatose Soul” to “This Is the Healing” and “Rocket and a Bomb” as encores, Knott was amazing. The recently sobered up Michael Knott is in his prime right now. I can’t wait to see what the future brings for Knott, but in the meantime I will treasure his show for a long time to come. 

July 4, 2002 - Day Two
I got smart on Thursday morning and made use of the early waking to check out a morning film showcase at Flickerings. There were chairs and fans so Flickerings was to be a welcome retreat whether the films were good or not. It turned out that the short film Dang was an excellent comedy about love and sexuality within the church. The production quality of the film particularly impressed me along with the strong soundtrack.

Next I was off to the Press Tent for the RMC BBQ, a good opportunity to meet people that I knew from the internet but had never met in person and also a chance for some decent food. 

I was able to find The Violet Burning table upon my trip to the merchandise tent and spent some time talking with Michael Pritzl. He was extremely kind and very genuine. I picked up his solo project Gravity Show to review.

The next stop was the Decapolis Label Showcase to see Canary, a band featuring former members of Luxury. Canary’s live show was impressive, full of quality musicianship and well-written songs. 

I took a short music break and went to find Denison Witmer for our interview. I also stopped by the hard to find Michael Knott table to pick up a copy of the pre-release of his new album Comatose Soul. 

The music continued on the Decapolis stage with an acoustic set from Calibretto 13. The band wasn’t quite as good as their earlier show, but the crowd was still really into the band’s music.

The Lyndsay Diaries (the code name for Scott Windsor’s acoustic project) took the stage next. He played an excellent set of heartfelt ballads on his acoustic guitar. The set included some brand new songs as well. Look for the new album when it comes out. The Lyndsay Diaries is simply great music. 

Veronica had the next slot on the Decapolis stage. Their Jimmy Eat World meets synthesizers sound made for a fairly interesting live show. The band played some already released tunes and a few new songs.

Noise Ratchet was the highlight of my afternoon. Thankfully a lot of other people showed up to share in the enjoyment. The music of Noise Ratchet lies somewhere between The Juliana Theory and Stavesacre. To make matters even better, Noise Ratchet can rock a crowd very nicely. Most of their set material came from the new full-length ’Til We Have Faces, a highly recommended disc.

After a dinner break, I was back at the Decapolis stage to see Brandtson. The band’s set was well attended and extremely tight. Though most of the material was from recent releases, a few older songs also surfaced to the delight of the fans. I had seen Brandtson before and not been too impressed, but this time it was different and good to see.

I ventured to the Main Stage next just to see how things were going over there. I witnessed most of Five Iron Frenzy’s show, which was good as always. MxPx wasn’t nearly as impressive so I left early.

The trade off was good. I got to see Embodyment play at Encore 1 and they ripped through songs from their last two releases while lead singer Sean Corbray proved that he is one of the best frontmen around. I had to leave a little early to see another show, though.

That show was The Violet Burning. Michael Pritzl and company mesmerized the crowd until 2:10 AM. Songs were played from all eras of the Violet Burning. I was blown away by how even the songs that weren’t written as worship songs came off as being so worshipful.

July 5, 2002 - Day Three
Friday morning began with another trip to the film showcase. Probably the best of the five shorts films was Murphy’s Law, the funny and realistic story of a guy who has everything go wrong for him in one day.

The Tollbooth Talk on Christian artists in the mainstream turned out to be very informative. Bill Malonee of the Vigilantes of Love and singer/songwriter Jan Krist were there to discuss the worlds of Christian and secular music. Their basic consensus was that an artist can get screwed by a label in either camp and that indie is truly the best way to go without selling out. Malonee made a very good point that the moment a contract is signed with a label, the music is no longer art but business.

Goat Explosion kicked things off on the Decapolis Label Showcase for Plastiq Music. The band’s electronic pop sensibilities should help them to gain a nice following as soon as they release their debut full-length.

Joy Electric was no stranger to the packed tent. Their short set sounded good, even when frontman and visionary Ronnie Martin got annoyed when the wrong track was played and they had to stop and regroup. 

My next stop was the Silent Planet Records Acoustic stage to see one of my favorite solo artists, Aaron Sprinkle. All of his songs were great and proved that Sprinkle is undoubtedly one of the top quality acts in music.

I took a break from music for the rest of the afternoon to collect interviews from Denison Witmer and Tourniquet’s Luke Easter, both of whom proved to be wonderful interviewees.

For me, the evening’s first band was Vroom on the Decapolis stage. Their set was chock full of catchy, quality rock songs. The jokes about hardcore bands kept the mood fun as well. I had to leave before Vroom finished, however, for HM magazine metal night.

The first metal band scheduled was Joshua, but unfortunately they couldn’t show up. Instead, Reese Roper of Five Iron Frenzy played a rare acoustic set. Though he forgot the words and guitar parts to virtually every Brave Saint Saturn song he played, the set was still a lot of fun.

The metal music began next with Disciple. In their 45 minutes on stage, Disciple rocked the tent in a big way. But more than anything else that can be said about the band, it can be said that they love Jesus and are on fire for Him. That enthusiasm is contagious in their music.

A rare Whitecross reunion followed. Though I never really had a chance to be into the band back in the day, they were pretty interesting live especially guitarist Rex Carroll’s high soaring solos.

The final band for HM metal night was Tourniquet, playing their first show in six months. This was the show that made me decide to come to Cornerstone and it was the right decision. The band tore through their set with energy, heaviness, and quality, providing everything the audience could hope for. The only improvement the band could have made was to play more songs, but I guess that’s the disadvantage of playing on a set festival schedule.

July 6, 2002 - Day Four
Saturday was the last day of the festival. I slept in a bit later than usual. I had gotten used to the heat so sweating profusely while I slept didn’t really bother me too much by the last day. At noon I went to a Tollbooth Talk on independent artists. The discussion featured the expertise of Miranda Stone, Jeff Elbel, and Beki Hemingway. The general consensus was that being an indie artist is a lot of work but it can be worthwhile.

The Flickerings film showcase featured the best of Flickerings 2002. For the most part, these short films were the cream of the crop. Dang was once again easily the best of the bunch. Another hilarious short was Evolution, which used the theory of evolution as an analogy for Christianity.

For the most part, I took the afternoon easy. There was only one show I wanted to see, Michael Pritzl of The Violet Burning playing a rare acoustic set on the Silent Planet Records Acoustic stage. The songs were still brilliant in their stripped down versions, further sealing The Violet Burning as one of my very favorite bands.

The first and only show on Main Stage that I truly enjoyed was Pedro the Lion. It was great to see David Bazan’s emotional, honest, controversial songs played for such a large crowd. Due to the controversial nature of the new album Control, Pedro the Lion played mostly older songs. They did play a “censored version” of “Indian Summer,” however. It was great to see Pedro the Lion, but in many ways their show felt like a restrained lion, wanting to roar but unable to.

Dogwood played a later show at 11 PM on Encore 1. One of my big reasons for attending the show was to get a good spot for the Ghoti Hook show that would follow. I wonder how much of the rest of the audience was there for the same reason. Before they began playing, Dogwood’s drummer led the audience in some worship songs. Due to time constraints the band ripped through a relatively short set filled mostly with fan favorites and put on a decent show.

The final show of Cornerstone 2002 was a very special one: Ghoti Hook’s final performance. The band played a gigantic set filled with everything expected from a Ghoti Hook show and more. The thousands that filled the Encore 1 tent to overflowing would agree that Ghoti Hook will be dearly missed.

As I write, it’s a week since my experience began and I’m on my way home. The last week has been exciting, interesting, and inspiring. I have been a part of the Cornerstone experience, one that I hope to make a ritual.

My Top 10 Shows 
1. The Violet Burning (Full Band) 
2. Tourniquet 
3. Ghoti Hook 
4. Michael Knott 
5. Denison Witmer 
6. Pedro the Lion 
7. Starflyer 59 (Wednesday) 
8. The Violet Burning (Acoustic) 
9. Further Seems Forever (Tooth & Nail Day) 
10. Disciple


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